Think you’re not on a journey?

This video is sparking a lot of discussion among astronomy buffs.  It shows a slightly idealized version of the complex, twisting dance that our sun and its flock of planets are making as we orbit the galactic center, once every 226 million years or so.

Despite some criticisms about creative license and the somewhat figurative nature of the imagery, I love the narrative here.  It’s incredibly difficult to “live” the dynamic experience that is going on all around us at all times.

Humans seem to be hard-wired to “normalize” things, to establish as much order and stasis as we can, and then we ignore or tune out the cosmic level of change that surrounds us constantly.

Which is understandable.

We all have to pay our bills and mow the lawn and do the other day-to-day things that keep us on an even keel.

But it’s important every once in a while to remind ourselves that we are, literally and metaphorically, rocketing through time and space, blips of light and energy on a mysterious journey.

6 Comments on “Think you’re not on a journey?”

  1. Bob Falesch says:

    Very, very provocative! I like it, Brian, when you get all philosophical on us. What would it actually mean to …”live” the dynamic experience that is going on all around us at all times?”

    It used to be that, if anyone at all, it was the artists of the avant-garde who seemed to be living your “dynamic experience.” Their lives centered on a restless need to transmute, to discover, and to avoid repeating oneself. This was especially true in the period of “modernism” which we just exited (well, three or four decades ago, depending on who’s talking). The current “post-modern” period in the arts can appear to be centered on re-cycling, appropriating, granularizing the old and reassembling; combining unlikes, abandoning unified forms, etc. If one doesn’t appreciate the irony, the pluralism, the embracing of contradictions, and the shattering of barriers between high-art and populist forms — the ideals claimed by post-modernism, it can seem like stasis (as it sometimes does to me). So it’s much less clear nowadays whether that “dynamic” avant-garde still exists. Lots of things seem less clear now (did we mention politics?).

    Where can we look then, in the here-and-now, for this human embodiment of your “dynamic experience” if not to the artists in our society? The entrepreneurs? The Steve Jobs and Ray Kurzweils of our current age? I suppose they are the public models for it, but I like to think there are folks, just down the street, who are dancing with the stars as well. Those who are creative in solving day-to-day problems might be, on their own scale, doing just that rather than accepting a life of stasis. Most of the time they’re not making the distinction, they just have a simple, personal goal.

    ( …not that you were inviting criticism of our hardwired tendency to normalize, or anything :–)

    A year on the sun is 226,000,000 earth years. It never occurred to me. That leads me to ponder: Does the sun have a day (does it even rotate)?

  2. Ken Hall says:

    Bob Falesch asks: “Does the sun have a day (does it even rotate)?”

    If the Earth rotated at the same rotational rate the the Sun’s equatorial region does an Earth day would be roughly 5.5 hours long.

  3. tootightmike says:

    Sitting here at my desk, you cause me to ponder…From the web page that will be replaced tomorrow, the vase of flowers that will last less than a week, the tea cup that I’ve used for what? twelve years now, and to the children of my children who were themselves babies just a while ago. I look around the room and there’s a wind up train that I’ve played with for fifty years, sitting on a ledge in a kitchen designed in the sixties, in a house built in the nineteenth century. Outside I drilled holes into the bark of huge maples that some good person planted in 1880 with me in mind. Next door there is a young woods, grow up in someone’s abandoned Victory garden, and in my basement, there are tiny onion seedlings, only a week old that will grow and fill our pantry next winter.
    We’re on a voyage all right; we’re on a hundred voyages all at once, some going forward, some back and others in some other unseen direction. Take note, look out the windows, send a postcard.

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    TootightM…Thanks for this lovely reflection…and I thought commenters I see at the In Box were just a bunch of gruff and cranky guys!

  5. Ken Hall says:

    Brian Mann says: “Humans seem to be hard-wired to “normalize” things, to establish as much order and stasis as we can, and then we ignore or tune out the cosmic level of change that surrounds us constantly.”

    Do you think it possible that the evolutionary processes and pressures that resulted in our built in sense systems which would be most likely to enable us to observe the motions of the Universe sight, time and balance/acceleration were formed by the relatively well understood mechanisms of evolution primarily to enable our survival upon the plains of the Serengeti? Our eyes do not have the visual acuity of say a raptor nor an IR, X-ray, Gamma ray, or Radio wave sensitivity which would have made our observation of the Universe a bit easier prior to the development of the electro-mechanical sensors with which we are currently assessing the mechanisms which drive the Universe in which we exist; but, likely would have made survival more problematical. Prior to the invention of accurate clocks we had a sense of time passing but not to a precision which would enable a comprehensive understanding of the orbital mechanics of the Universe.

    Just as you can sense only acceleration changes to the steady state motion of an aircraft, train, boat or automobile when riding in them, we likewise cannot sense the motions of rotation and revolution which the Sun Earth couple experience as they are propelled through the Universe because the mechanism in our inner ear which enable us to maintain balance and sense relative acceleration would not be able to do so if we could not ignore constant steady state motion and acceleration.

    It is not that we consciously “ignore or tune out the cosmic level of change” it is simply that were we able to sense such it likely would have been an impediment to our survival; therefore, evolution saw to it that we became equipped with the sense systems we have so as to enable our individual survival sufficiently long to pass such on to our (generic) offspring.

  6. Brian says:

    Ken –

    I think this is probably right.

    We have a phrase in our language, “common sense.” And we know from experience that common sense is a powerful social and intellectual force.

    We often choose to believe and care about things which seem tactile, visible, tangible. “Seeing is believing” is another of our phrases.

    But the truth, of course, is that we now have sciences and methods of perceiving that wildly transcend “common sense.”

    And from those tools we know that many of the things that seem tangible and real aren’t at all.

    Energy is matter. Matter is energy. Time is fungible. There are entirely bizarre rules at very small scales of the universe, and bizarre rules at very large scales of the universe.

    And not in some abstract way, or in some arcane metaphysics. But in actual scientific fact.

    But of course for the creatures that we mostly are — animals, needing to eat, find shelter, survive, reproduce — perceiving the wildly complex strangeness of reality would be unhelpful or maybe even distracting.

    By reducing the universe to a simple framework, we are able to exist more or less successfully within it. We live a necessary Cliff’s Notes version of reality.

    The problem in this, as I see it, is that we so often forget what we’re doing. We forget that we’re basing so many of our decisions on an extremely limited, in accurate shorthand version of Truth.

    So, for example, with a problem like global warming, which requires a larger, longer frame of reference, we stumble. We can’t see the change, we can’t feel it — it’s not measurable in “common sense.”

    And so we ignore it or discount it. But maybe that’s changing a bit.

    This is, I think, the power and beauty of science, as exampled by this video. It allows us to see ourselves more clearly and, sometimes, to take action that better reflects reality.

    I now hand over the conch shell… :)

    –Brian, NCPR

Comments are closed.